Stevenson, Alabama, like its nearby neighbor Bridgeport, Alabama, are two small villages that have interesting railroad pasts.
Both were important venues before, during and after the Civil War. Unfortunately, they both remain sparsely populated today. (However, the towns may like it that way!)
The original Stevenson train depot was built in 1852 and it was destroyed around the Civil War period.
During its existence it had a common use by the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad and by the Memphis and Charleston Railroad with separate tracks for the trains on each side of the depot.
The present depot was built in 1872 and is on the same site as the original one. It has been suggested that some of the salvaged brick from the original depot was used in the construction of the second depot.
With the decline of passenger service the tracks on each side of the restored depot still are used for freight trains along the designated routes.
The depot has been converted into the Stevenson Railroad Depot Museum and it houses a collection of military, agricultural, Indian artifacts, railroad, pioneer life and other memorabilia.
The depot is registered on the National Register of Historic Places.
Possession of the depot changed several times during the Civil War and the Union forces surrounded the railroad junction with blockhouses and an earthen redoubt known as Fort Harker. Its remains are south of the depot.
Fort Harker was constructed by the Union Army in the summer of 1862 and expanded in 1864, using soldiers and freed slaves during the work.
Fort Harker was an earthen redoubt, 150 feet square, with walls 14 feet high and surrounded by an eight-foot-deep dry powder moat.
The fort contained seven cannon platforms, a bomb-proof powder magazine, a draw bridge entrance, and an eight-sided wooden blockhouse at its center. It is also on the National Register of Historic Places.
Stevenson was a vital link to major points throughout the Southeast and in 1863 Union General William Rosecran’s forces constructed a pontoon bridge across the Tennessee River which allowed thousands of Union troops to cross the river and advance on to the battlefield at Chickamauga during the bloody battle held on September 18-20.
Historic homes on either end of town were used as Civil War hospitals.
While the original objective was to build the railroad from Nashville to Chattanooga, it was also a goal to build the track solely within the state of Tennessee, but the mountainous terrain between the two cities mandated that the railroad had to be re-routed below South Pittsburgh into Alabama.
The railroad stop was named for the railroad's president Vernon K. Stevenson, who was a close friend of Chattanooga railroad promoter, James A. Whiteside.
It was also necessary that the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad would go into the state of Georgia for a short distance before going into Chattanooga.
Adjacent to the depot is the Stevenson Hotel that was built simultaneously with the depot and contained eight rooms with a lobby and two dining rooms that was connected to the depot by a walkway.
The hotel for a long time was the center of cultural activities in Stevenson and was rumored to have been the site of the first showing of a motion picture in the city.
When the railroad abandoned the depot in 1976 a group of local citizens put on a campaign to save the depot and they raised the money to purchase the building and to turn it into the local history museum which exists today.
It is also on the National Register of Historical Places as well as the hotel and 30 more buildings in Stevenson.
Traditionally the city during the first full week of June each year celebrates the Depot Days Festival which includes a week-long event of family-oriented activities.
Parker Edmiston is the contact person for the Museum, which is located at 207 Main Street at Stevenson, Alabama 35772, phone number (256) 437-3012. Admission is free and the normal hours are Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (Central Standard Time).
A one-day trip to Stevenson, Bridgeport, South Pittsburg, Orme and the Russell Cave National Monument should appeal to the historical appetite and curiosity of all.
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